I could really go for a tv dinner right now. The 70s kind, like the Hungry Man dinners from Swanson – Salisbury steak that has the compartments with the meat in the middle then peas, mashed potatoes, a corn bread puff or chocolate cake above the meat like word balloons. What was that corn bread puff? It was like cornbread but also usually soft inside and sweet like a dessert. Did I dream it? Maybe. I am not sure. Food memories can be dreamlike and misleading. It could have been what I wanted it to be instead of just a small portion of creamed corn.
It’s been so long since I had one, the containers then weren’t microwaveable! That’s so crazy. They had to baked in a convection oven. I loved how everything kind of tasted the same and it was like a home version of the airplane meal, but unpredictable, since you would have to do the heating, and usually I burned the meal slightly, just to brulee it, bringing the prodigious sugar to the surface and adding crunch and caramel. If I had a propane torch then I would have just defrosted it on the counter and seared the top.
The salisbury steak or turkey tv dinner was preferable to the turkey and chicken pot pie because even though the pies were delicious, after 40 minutes in the oven, the creamy white a’la king insides would get unbelievably hot and my tongue would be blistered for days because it took forever to cook and by the time it was ready your patience would have been tested and your appetite ravenous and unreasonable. I always took it out of the oven prematurely, and proudly persevered through doughy centers rather than put it back in because the wait was just too much for me.
Could you make these dishes yourself now? Yeah totally, but it wouldn’t have the same gravity, the emotional weight that comes from cooking for yourself for the first few times. The pulling of cold cardboard out of the freezer and reading of boxes and preheating. If you were real little, like me, you’d have pulled up a chair in the kitchen in order to reach the back of the freezer, dragging the legs across the floor and scraping up the new tile.
There was that scared, alone feeling, and the momentary envisioning of a twilight zone style apocalypse, where you are the only one left alive, and it’s just you and all these tv dinners. It’s like Burgess Meredith with the books and the oven is your glasses. Those first few times I was always afraid the oven would explode, but it was always ok. I ate a lot of these dinners and also hot dogs with American cheese – boiled and I must admit raw at times, which I didn’t mind. It’s kind of good and all the same really.